Washington high school football team coping with coach’s tragic death

Second-time coach Geary Oliver was noticeably excited at the end of Lake Roosevelt High School’s preseason football camp.

He had 43 players ready for the jamboree last weekend – and the start of the 2023 season.

“I’ve been here (in Coulee City) since 1975, and I’ve never seen it over 40 kids,” Oliver said. “We’ve got five or six seniors, but quite a few juniors and sophomores.”

But Oliver – one of the commissioners at Coulee Medical Center – knows his position isn’t just being a coach this fall for an aspiring Class 2B playoff squad.

He has to be an attentive tenderheart – a father figure to a group of teenagers who suffered an extreme loss just a few months ago.

W James “Bubba” Egbert, a popular community leader and former Boise State University player, was Lake Roosevelt’s coach last fall when the Raiders reached the postseason.

But in May, Egbert, 49, died in a tragic horse-related accident on his family ranch.

It happened just a few weeks before his oldest son, Brit – the team’s 2022 starting quarterback – graduated and his youngest son, Wyatt, entered offseason football activities as the new signal caller.

“He was extremely kid-minded,” Oliver said. “Our whole community was devastated.”

While the community mourned, the program went months without hiring a new coach.

A school-board member reached out to Oliver – a 1978 Lake Roosevelt graduate who spent one season (2015) as the coach (and many other years as an assistant) – in July about returning for another stint.

Oliver, 63, initially declined – until he talked to his wife, Lynette, later that night.

“She looked right into my eyes and said, ‘You have to! These kids need you!'” Oliver said. “So I then told them I was in.”

One of the first things he did as the new coach was schedule a meeting with Wyatt Egbert.

The two met at a local restaurant. After sensing the junior’s unwavering focus toward football, Oliver informed the team leader that he wasn’t going to change anything schematically about the offense that Bubba ran.

“(Wyatt) said, ‘Thank goodness, I’ve been worried all summer about it because we have a good thing going,'” Oliver said.

“That was a good thing for us … because I can see he is driven. And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but it’s pretty obvious why.”

Oliver is going to carry on another team tradition that Bubba Egbert started after he took over last summer.

Each day before practice, Bubba Egbert would gather his players around and ask them the same question: “Who did something good for somebody else today?” That triggered a huddle’s worth of good-will discussion.

Oliver will continue that dialogue this fall, then pass out a one-inch football-helmet decal in the memoriam design of a cowboy hat with an “E” below it to the most deserving player.

“Just thought that was the best possible way to honor his memory,” Oliver said.

This community has endured a similar tragedy with its football coach before – former Oregon Ducks player Rob Williams unexpectedly died after his second season in 2006. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

“It’s going to be a tough, emotional year,” Oliver said.

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